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Schenectady City Council holds off on building rehab

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
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— The City Council put the brakes Monday on a plan to give a private developer $1.3 million to rehabilitate the former Schenectady County Department of Social Services building.

Instead, council members proposed spending $500,000 to demolish the historic building, leaving a clear lot for The Galesi Group to build new apartments.

The council is considering a $3 million loan from the federal government to demolish derelict houses. With the change in spending, the city could demolish about 120 buildings, twice as many as originally proposed.

To get the loan, the city’s application must include some rebuilding, so city officials had proposed the DSS project. But on Monday, Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said the $1.3 million proposal was far too costly.

She said the council would not apply to borrow the money unless it spent much less on the DSS project, and much more on demolition.

“A number of us were concerned,” she said.

She proposed demolishing the DSS building instead, and said Galesi Group would be willing to rebuild with its own money.

Galesi Group officials could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

It was unclear whether the change would be accepted by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“In order for this to not be deemed just demolition money, there has to be a firm commitment to build something,” said Corporation Counsel John Polster.

Development Director Richard Purga said he thought he could write an acceptable application if the city had a written commitment from Galesi to rebuild on the DSS lot. Galesi would have to promise that 51 percent of the apartments would be available to low- and moderate-income residents.

“There’s a way to fashion it, I believe,” Purga said of the application.

Councilman Vince Riggi suggested abandoning the DSS project altogether and instead using some of the loan to repair the Oak Street bridge. That bridge has been closed, cutting off one of the two access points to a small neighborhood.

“That’s a major issue that we have,” Riggi said.

The railroad companies that are responsible for the bridge are arguing about which one should pay for the repairs, and Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city would likely have to repair it and then try to negotiate payback from the railroads.

Perazzo said the loan couldn’t be used in that endeavor.

“This is [a loan] for demolition or housing, not infrastructure,” she said. “So that is impossible.”

Riggi objected. Using Purga’s terminology, he said, “If you’re good at ‘fashioning’ things, maybe something could be fashioned —”

But Councilwoman Denise Brucker cut him off and asked for a vote on Perazzo’s proposal. It passed out of committee, and could be voted on by the full council as early as Monday if Galesi files its written commitment in time.

In other business, Perazzo insisted that the city’s proposed towing fee specifically exempt drivers who are injured in a car accident. She had worried that they would be hit with an additional fee simply because a police officer called for a tow when they were taken away by ambulance.

Polster agreed to rewrite the legislation, which will then be presented for a final vote next Monday.

The council will not vote next week on whether to give the mayor the power to increase parking rates as he sees fit. Council members tabled the legislation for two weeks, saying that they want to give the mayor limited authority to raise rates without their direct approval.

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield suggested setting a maximum parking rate, which the mayor could not exceed.

The mayor had argued that it would take too long to hold public hearings every time he wanted to adjust the parking rates for holidays, special events and other circumstances. Opponents had noted that he could easily predict those events months in advance, and get through the public hearing with time to spare.

 
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